Women in the Workplace: A Shift in Industry Work Culture
(2018-2021 Report)

APEGA’s Women in the Workplace: A Shift in Industry Work Culture report sheds a light on the top barriers women in engineering and geoscience face. It provides actionable advice that can be implemented by individuals, leaders, and organizations so we can all take part in breaking down the barriers and working towards equity and inclusion in the professions.

This project was funded through a three-year, $350,000 grant from the federal department of Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) to investigate the barriers that women face in the engineering and geoscience workplace.

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Real Experiences from APEGA Members

Read by APEGA volunteers, these stories were submitted anonymously by professional engineers and professional geoscientists as part of the research for the Women in the Workplace report. These experiences are real, recent, and happening all over Alberta.

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Read the full Women in the Workplace report

  • Learn more about the top challenges and barriers that women face in the workplace
  • Find out how you can improve the equality and inclusiveness of your workplace
  • Understand why these challenges are so important to the culture and competitiveness of your organization

APEGA recognizes there are important differences between sex and gender. Due to respondents using both terms interchangeably, for the purposes of the project and this report, we combined the terminology for sex (male and female) and gender (man and woman) to describe gender-based responses and actions.

The Top Barriers Women Face in the Workplace

In 2019, we consulted 329 members, and the weight of mentions (1557 in total) for each of the barriers that women face within the professions is represented here, from most to least.

  1. 27.8% – Traditionally masculine work environment
  2. 20.5% – Career development and advancement
  3. 17.0% – Bias, discrimination, and harassment
  4. 14.8% – Maternity and parental leave issues
  5. 9.8% – Work-life balance issues
  6. 5.5% – Perceived characteristics of women
  7. 3.0% – Societal issues

With support from the Women’s Economic Recovery Challenge Grant, APEGA's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion team is raising awareness of the top four barriers and providing free training to APEGA registrants to help them create a more inclusive workplace.

My male coworker treats me like I don’t belong in the overall company culture. I have informed my immediate boss about the racist comments and behaviour, and he said that my coworker has good intentions. What is the good intention of being racist, condescending, and disrespectful?
Project Manager, Woman
Top 7 Barriers Women Face in the Workplace (full description in text)

Workplace Environment

Men and women have very different views on whether gender plays a role in how they are treated in the workplace.

When asked how much gender affects a person’s treatment in the workplace, 58 per cent of all respondents selected Very Much or Some. When those responses are separated by gender, 83 per cent of women selected Very Much or Some, compared to only 38 per cent of men. Conversely, 52 per cent of men said gender matters Very Little or Not at All in the workplace, whereas only 11 per cent of women said the same. Women and men respondents who selected Very Much generally agreed the top reason for gender-based discrimination was bias against women.

The building I work in now only has a men's bathroom. If I want to go to the bathroom, I have to put on my parka and my ice cleats, and I have to walk to the next building over. It doesn't make me feel included in my workplace.
Consultation Participant, Woman
Rates of womens responses are in green, and mens in blue380 respondents said gender impacts their work environment Very Much; 81% (306) was from women, and 19% (74) was from men.1,122 respondents said gender impacts their work environment Some; 58% (650) was from women, and 42% (472) was from men.504 respondents said gender impacts their work environment Very Little; 20% (102) was from women, and 80% (402) was from men.370 respondents said gender impacts their work environment Not At All; 8% (31) was from women, and 92% (339) was from men.202 respondents were unsure how gender impacts their work environment; 34% (69) was from women, and 66% (133) was from men.

Career Development and Advancement

Women are being hired at almost the same rate as men for entry-level careers.Entry-level hiring rate: Women are hired 15% of the time, and men are hired 16% of the time
Early in their careers, women are not promoted at the same rate as men—dramatically reducing their later participation in professional and managerial roles.Entry-level career participation: Women participate in professional and managerial roles 40% of the time, and men 60% of the time.Promotion rate: Women are promoted 3% of the time and men are promoted 6% of the time.Professional-level career participation: Women participate in professional and managerial roles 24% of the time, and men 76% of the time.
I was the only woman on the team, but we all had the same experience and I thought we all got paid the same. Then, I found out that everyone makes more money than me. I spoke to my manager and he said, "As a woman, I think you already make good money."
Consultation Participant, Woman

Bias, Discrimination, and Harassment

When asked whether they have personally experienced gender-based discrimination, 59 per cent of women said yes while only 12 per cent of men did. Survey respondents across all genders most frequently cited supervisors, peers, and independent contractors or consultants as the initiators of discrimination.

Responses to Whether Employees have Faced Gender-Based Discrimination

Women responded:

  • 59% Yes
  • 24% No
  • 17% Unsure

Men responded:

  • 78% No
  • 12% Yes
  • 10% Unsure
Multiple men would try and get into women’s hotel rooms. No one would ever say anything. Happened to multiple women and they would not speak about it.
Consultation Participant, Woman
Responses to whether employees have faced gender-based discrimination (see description)

Maternity or Parental Leave

Many consultation participants (11 per cent of the total comments related to maternity and parental leave) strongly believed the issues women face pertaining to leave (i.e., inability to return to the same role, losing project leadership opportunities prior to leave, not being granted interesting work and projects after a leave, career progression and performance management implications, and difficulty transitioning back to work) would be remedied if organizations encouraged all new parents to take parental leave. They stated once organizational culture accepts parental leave as a valuable experience—and acknowledges the skill development and personal growth that occur while one is on leave—the challenges currently faced by parents would significantly decrease.

When I announced I was pregnant, my boss proceeded to leave a magazine article on my desk that addressed why your boss hates your maternity leave.
Consultation Participant, Woman
Men are typically evaluated on their potential whereas women are evaluated on their experience—which can often be interrupted by a maternity leave.

A Snapshot of the Workplace

The information above was summarized from the following sources:

  • APEGA (2019). Survey results on barriers women face in the engineering and geoscience workplace
  • Mercer (2019). When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive: APEGA Benchmark Report
  • Mercer (2020). APEGA’s Salary Survey Gender Pay Analysis 2014 – 2018

Download the highlights report (PDF, 500 KB)

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